“This is ridiculous,” I thought. I was watching “Meet the Press,” a Sunday morning habit I recently picked up in hopes of gaining yet another input into the ongoing drama of U.S. politics.
Earlier that morning I’d already scrolled through Twitter, Facebook, and the r/Politics on Reddit. Nothing gets by me, I assured myself. If an event has taken place, I know about it and have probably read a dozen snarky Tweets about it, plus a couple of hot takes and some Reddit comments. I KNOW WHAT’S UP.
Things got weird.
As far as I can tell, this is the first U.S. presidency that plays like a Netflix original that we are collectively binge-watching in real time. Each episode is 24 hours long, and the season one finale is four years away. The thing is, I grow tired of television programs quickly, and this particular one was too much. The events portrayed seemed too far-fetched.
About a third of the way through that episode of “Meet The Press,” I said it out loud: “This is ridiculous.” What good does it do for me to know completely every observed action, some of it in real time, throughout the day? It was Sunday, for Pete’s sake. Time to relax, not time to descend into turmoil before I’m out of my pajamas.
Maybe I’m not using these channels correctly, I don’t know. At any rate, I opted to drop out, for a week. No endless Facebook or Twitter newsfeed scrolling, no Reddit politics browsing. None.
It took some getting used to, no doubt about it. I probably don’t want to know how many times every day I refreshed my social feeds, just looking for something new, even if there wasn’t anything new. Most of the time, the internet delivered something new, something awaiting my outrage. “Did you see this?” the internet would ask again and again.
I didn’t want to put my head in the sand — I was just hoping to find a more sustainable balance of news awareness for my mental well-being. Instead of social feeds, I used some primary sources to stay up-to-date: NPR on the radio for my work commutes, and the Reuters & BBC apps for those times when I might incessantly check my social feeds.
NPR worked well on my commutes, rather than the blood pressure-raising podcasts that used to whip me into a state of horror and despair each morning.
The Reuters app reminds me of a now-retired New York Times app, NYT Now. A clearly-defined user experience really set NYT Now apart. They published a limited number of stories to the app twice each day, and when you were done looking at those, it presented a message, something to the effect of: “That’s it for now. Check back later.” The Reuters app follows a similar approach, though their publishing style is closer to a wire feed. (Probably why they called that part of the app “The Wire.” Maybe.)
On the Wednesday of this social-hiatus week, I encountered a New York Times article by Farhad Manjoo — he undertook a similar media diet, but our weeks had overlapped by half. It was encouraging knowing that I wasn’t the only one feeling overwhelmed in the past month. (Or past 18 months, if I’m being honest.)
Only so many words in a day.
What did I do with all of this extra time, now that I didn’t have my nose buried in a newsfeed? Read. I read so much this week. We have only so many hours in a day, so many minutes to read words. Before, I read an unending firehose of rage in my newsfeeds. This week, I read books and magazine articles instead.
I read Frederick Douglass’ narratives, a book about a woman that survived unimaginable situations as a forced laborer in WWII Germany, countless New Yorker articles, and books about artists Fernand Léger and Peter Brötzmann. These things gave me a greater perspective on how humanity deals with the passage of time and turmoil, which seems like a better use of the limited words I can read in one day.
I’m not here to brag, I’m here to confess that I was missing out on this perspective, getting caught up in the whirlwind of political reporting.
This Sunday morning I dove back into my feeds. It wasn’t great, which makes me a little sad. Ten years ago this month I signed up for Twitter, and my use of it has changed quite a bit over those years. This time it feels different, though.
As a reaction to all of this, I may return to using it as a platform to share dumb jokes and puns and my work thoughts. I’m not sure yet. A week’s pause gives a person time to re-evaluate the return on invested time.
On a side note, I have kept a tiny legal pad next to my desk, jotting down the bad puns and jokes I would’ve Tweeted during this hiatus. Part of me thought that I might keep them all to myself, or just show them to people, awkwardly on this tiny legal pad. “If you want to ‘like’ one, just draw a heart next to it…”
Nah. I’ll Tweet them out. Because we could use a laugh right about now.
(I should also note that my Representative in Congress received a two-page letter, written in ink during this hiatus, voicing my opinions. I intend to keep that old communication channel going no matter what happens in social media.)